Review By Karly

Lizzie Pook’s debut novel, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is historical fiction that is part mystery, part adventure with a strong female lead: a gender-be-damned heroine on a mission to find her father.

Favourite Quote:

Neither speaks, dazzled by the sheer number of things laid out on the table. A strange sort of glow comes from the stones, like the fog that would hover above the Thames back home. There must be hundreds of them in front of her, shifting from eel green to dragonfly blue to soft whispery pink. Some of the stones are baroques, small and misshapen, but the largest must be almost the size of her eyeball. She carefully picks it up and turns it so it dances under the dim light. It seems to contain the whole weather system inside it – lilac storm clouds and frothy white cumulus, the flinty gray of the ocean before the sun first hits. She swallows. For all the shells brought up by the luggers, Eliza knows the chances of finding a pearl are perhaps one in ten thousand. Such a stroke of luck on a pearling craft can make its owner hundreds, even thousands, of pounds in a day. But a pearl like this, she knows, can set up a man for life.

Goodreads Synopsis: 

For readers of The Light Between Oceans and The Island of Sea Women, a feminist adventure story set against the backdrop of the dangerous pearl diving industry in 19th-century Western Australia, about a young English woman who sets off to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her eccentric father.

Western Australia, 1886. After months at sea, a slow boat makes its passage from London to the shores of Bannin Bay. From the deck, young Eliza Brightwell and her family eye their strange, new home. Here is an unforgiving land where fortune sits patiently at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be claimed by those brave enough to venture into its depths. An ocean where pearl shells bloom to the size of soup plates, where men are coaxed into unthinkable places and unspeakable acts by the promise of unimaginable riches.

Ten years later, the pearl-diving boat captained by Eliza’s eccentric father returns after months at sea—without Eliza’s father on it. Whispers from townsfolk point to mutiny or murder. Headstrong Eliza knows it’s up to her to discover who, or what, is really responsible.

As she searches for the truth, Eliza discovers that beneath the glamorous veneer of the pearling industry, lies a dark underbelly of sweltering, stinking decay. The sun-scorched streets of Bannin Bay, a place she once thought she knew so well, are teeming with corruption, prejudice, and blackmail. Just how far is Eliza willing to push herself in order to solve the mystery of her missing father? And what family secrets will come to haunt her along the way?

A transporting feminist adventure story based on Lizzie Pook’s deep research into the pearling industry and the era of British colonial rule in Australia, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is ultimately about the lengths one woman will travel to save her family.

I really enjoyed reading Lizzie Pook’s Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter. Pook’s writing effortlessly situates the reader in Western Australia during the late 19th century. Being unfamiliar with the history of Australia, I found the descriptions of the rough landscape to be as captivating as the main plot. While not weighted down in historical facts, Pook gives just enough detail of the social, political, and cultural issues to set the scene for the reader in a respectful way. 

The main character, Eliza Brightwell, is likeable and well-developed. She is both determined and vulnerable, knowing when to accept help and when to handle things independently. While secondary characters like Axel, Knife, Min, and Thomas don’t have as much of a backstory as Eliza, their presence throughout the book and their interactions with Eliza help move the narrative along. Eliza’s father, Charles Brightwell, is introduced to the reader through Eliza’s memories and through his journal entries. These moments reveal as much about Eliza as they do Charles, the pearling industry and life in Western Australian in a way that does not detract from the main plotline. 

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook is an entertaining, quick read for people who like historical fiction but are looking for something a bit different. 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada for the ARC in return for an honest review.